“We Will Leave This Place Better Than We Found It”
By Courtney Zerrenner
Stanley Kovak (Class of 2017), a rising second year at Darden, is currently completing his summer internship at ExxonMobil in Qatar.
Before Darden, Stan studied electrical engineering at the University of Michigan. Following graduation, he worked at Lockheed Martin, focusing on production support of Counter IED systems, testing prototype designs, and creating demonstrations for customer sell-offs. The breadth of his responsibilities grew the longer he worked, and his newly assigned tasks within his team sparked an interest in finance. Transitioning from day-to-day operations to lead engineer on his project, he began to interface frequently with the finance team at Lockheed Martin and pitching products to customers himself. Outside of work, he read books to educate himself on finance: its concepts, strategies, and buzzwords. When Stan realized that he was more interested by finance than by his work in engineering, he decided that the next step for him would be to return to school for his MBA.
Familiar with the DC area and Darden’s reputation within in it, Stan looked at several programs, including Darden. The small, tight knit alumni base appealed to Stan’s desire for a more community-based MBA experience. Stan cites, “Alumni base was forefront in my mind” as the reason he chose Darden, in addition to “Darden’s strong program in finance.”
For Stan, Darden is “one of the best MBA programs in the world in terms of diversity and preparing students to deal with diverse environments.” From the international makeup of each Darden class, to the globally focused courses and case studies, to the world renowned and traveled faculty, Stan believes that “having an eye on international affairs and diversity gives you an advantage in the globally focused business world and Darden has that edge.”
When Stan arrived on Grounds, he commented that Darden did “a great job of connecting students with the Charlottesville area.” One of the more memorable events for Stan at Darden was the Building Goodness in April (BGIA) event, when Stan and his section rebuilt a home in the Charlottesville area. He remarked that it is “really fulfilling to see the reactions of the homeowners” after their homes have been demoed and rebuilt. He has found Charlottesville and the UVA community to complement each other, rather than some college cities which embody the town vs. gown mentality. Stan says that “very few people” he knows “have walked away saying that they don’t love Charlottesville,” and has found it hard not to love the city and its community.
As a first year on Grounds, “being at Darden has helped to solidify my interest in finance. It’s a two-year program but the start of a lifelong process of learning,” he further explained. Unwilling to narrow down his future to just one career track, Stan hopes that this summer at ExxonMobil will help him identify his strengths and areas of opportunity, rather than confine him to a specific industry after graduation. Darden, in Stan’s opinion, “opens millions of doors” and rather than close any of them, Stan plans to “take the opportunity that Darden offers [me]. To not do so would be foolish.” One of several opportunities that Stan took advantage of this year was the Sweden Global Business Experience (GBE), which focused on Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Sustainability.
Sweden has experienced a recent spike in startups, including that of globally recognized
music provider, Spotify. “Capitalism dominates the Western Business mindset, but socialism and startups are not mutually exclusive,” Stan observed. On the GBE, we wanted to answer the question “why are startups and companies being created in Sweden if it’s a socialist business environment?” Stan explained. Witnessing the complexity of the Swedish economic policies and industries first hand was “interesting . . . specifically to see a different model work despite the capitalism only mindset many of us have been taught.” Only a few days after the end of his GBE, Stan headed to Qatar for his summer internship with ExxonMobil.
Stan originally pursued interning at ExxonMobil for its finance opportunities, but he has found a new passion: the blending of finance with “engineering in an industry that is crucial to world affairs.” The Darden alumni base at Exxon reached out to Stan when his application was received, and soon, the intern class was chosen. A month later, Exxon offered two possible international placements to the intern class: Budapest and Qatar. Realizing that “this is a rare opportunity, and Qatar is wildly important to Exxon,” Stan pursued the international placement opening. He has been stunned by the diversity and depth of knowledge amongst the staff in Qatar and credits Darden for preparing him to be successful working with the team saying “Exxon is a confirmation for [me] that [my] first year at Darden did a great job at preparing me for this environment.”
Stan cites welcoming the incoming class of 2018 by the classes of 2016 and 2017 as one of his favorite experiences at Darden, and he is ready to come back for another year of Darden. “This is where we begin the tight knit alumni network” that brought Stan to Darden, “it’s the person you sit next to in class, that you talk to, you form a bond with, you become friends.” Stan adds that “it’s not Kool-Aid, I promise . . . it’s a belief, an atmosphere that is unmistakably Darden.” As a second year, Stan will welcome the incoming class, passing along wisdom earlier Darden students imparted to him: “we’re a part of a bigger whole striving for something better than ourselves. We will leave this place better than we found it.”